The Exponent Explains: The Noodle

The Noodle is an element that provides unique character to the MSU campus, and it is a common image used to represent the university. Students grow accustomed to seeing the two ton curved beam spinning in the foreground of the Bridgers as they walk across campus, yet background about the piece is not common knowledge and is full of misconceptions.

The large sculpture located in front of the Engineering and Physical Sciences building was installed in April 2002, shortly after the building’s construction. It was commissioned because of the state law dictating that one percent of the cost of the building must be used to contribute to public art. The sculpture is titled “Wind Arc,” but most members of the MSU community refer to it as “the Noodle.”

The Noodle was designed and built by Gary Bates, a Montana resident, and the process took nearly three years to complete. Bates grew up on a farm in Amsterdam, Mont. and his exposure to the wind while he worked inspired him to build kinetic sculptures. He studied art at MSU and later attended the Kansas City Art Institute, from where he graduated in 1975.

Reaction to wind is a common theme in Bates’ work. This particular piece consists of a 44 ft. beam made of iron, bent with its lowest point resting atop an 18 ft. stainless steel post. As the arm catches the wind, it spins. The shape of the Noodle was based on a twig that Bates found in Yellowstone, although the piece is not necessary meant to represent anything.

A common myth surrounding the structure and function of the sculpture is that the Noodle was carefully engineered to rest atop the metal column without any connecting pieces, remaining in place only due to perfectly balanced forces. However, this is not how Bates chooses to go about his work. He determines how things will balance through empirical tests rather than through calculations, and sometimes he does not know exactly how they will work until he sees them in motion.

Other pieces of Bates’ work are featured in Bozeman, including “Red Whirly,” which is located on the roof of the public library.